Easy Peasy Pudding: Rhubarb Swirl Cheesecake: Fiesta Friday 30!

The second crop of Rhubarb is well under way in the garden.  Strong pink stems, fading to gentle green and topped with ridiculously huge umbrella-like leaves again surround the pond area.  I love it.

And it’s Friday, so that means Fiesta time with The Novice Gardener…

The perfect excuse for a rhubarb recipe trial – hence this quick little gem  🙂

For Fiesta Friday ± 30

Easy Peasy Rhubarb Cheesecake.

Easy Peasy Rhubarb Cheesecake.

This tasty dessert can change with the seasons – featuring whatever fruit you have to hand.

It’s an almost instant pudding that will look as though you’ve given put in far more effort than was actually the case, but nobody will know…

I’d admired Moira Stewart’s Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake recipe online recently – original post here:     http://www.marthastewart.com/340227/raspberry-swirl-cheesecake  What follows is an adaption of that recipe – much simpler.  Quick and effective.  Not the best cheesecake ever, but it was received very well, required very few ingredients, and took less than 20 minutes to prepare, so what’s not to like?

Easy Peasy Rhubab Cheesecake.

Serves 6, depending on how much everybody eats (!)

Make in a round cake tin, approx 18cm, which has been pre-lined with baking paper.  Pre-heat oven, 180 degrees.

Rhubarb garden crop

Home grown rhubarb

I used rhubarb that I’d previously baked.  See post here:


Try to this dessert rest for at least 6 hours before eating – up to 2 days is fine.

If kept in the fridge, it should ideally be removed and left at room temperature for 20 minutes or so before eating, or the flavours will be slightly dulled.


1.5 Cup finely ground Digestive Biscuits

               2 Tablespoons butter

Cheesecake Mix:   

1 x 200g pack cream cheese

                                        1 x 200g pack low-fat cream cheese

                                        Half a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract

                                        1 cup sugar

                                        2 x eggs

Simple, quick pudding

Easy Peasy rhubarb Cheesecake.

Melt butter and mix in biscuits, then press over the base of the prepared cake tin.  Cool whilst making the filling.

Mix cheese and sugar.  Add vanilla essence and slowly add eggs, continuing to mix.

Turn cheese topping onto base, adding some drained pieces of baked rhubarb.

Smooth top, then scoop up some rhubarb juice with a small deep spoon and blog onto the top – swirl with the tip of a knife to make a pretty pattern.

Bake in a preheated oven for around one hour.

Turn the oven off, leave door open a bit and let the cheesecake cool in the oven.

Cool thoroughly before removing from tin – this will help it to firm up first!

Enjoy – we had ours with home-made ice cream 🙂

 Now I’m off to the Novice Gardener, to see what everyone else has brought to the party –


or click on the purple FF link in the sidebar; happy Fiesta Friday!


Experiments with Polenta –

Half term has just finished 😦

Making the most of ‘time’, I’ve been doing some seasonal Spring Cleaning… therapeutic.

Going through the cupboards, I found that we had rather a glut of polenta.

So to correct the balance of ‘store cupboard essentials’, we had a polenta evening, trying lots of different polenta dishes.  Here are the top two: Orange polenta cake steeped in fruit syrup, & Mushroom herb polenta – more tricky to make, but an education in polenta cooking if like us you’re not familiar with it.  I have to say, I  always just thought of polenta as something which lacked good looks and taste, even when served in the smartest restaurants, and never really ‘got‘ it..!

Mushroom, Herb & Polenta 'Pizza'.

Ottolenghi’s Mushroom, Herb & Polenta ‘Pizza’.

Orange Polenta Cake with orange syrup.

Orange Polenta Cake with orange syrup.

Mushroom Herb Polenta; like a homemade pizza.  Bubbling with mushroom juices, grilled cheese & fragrant herbs.  Orange Polenta cake; lovely for desert with a dollop of creme fraiche; equally good for tea the next day.

* * *

Ottolenghi’s Mushroom & Herb Polenta.  Vegetarian.

We found it best to let the prepared polenta rest a little before use, allowing it to settle.

I’d love to hear what other people do with polenta – do let me know (I’ve still got quite a stash in the cupboard!)  We used thyme and sage in this recipe, as they both needed trimming ready for their spring growth!


* * *

Orange Polenta cake with Orange Syrup.  Vegetarian.

Light, textured and aromatic – a grown up cake to serve with rich ice cream, creme fraiche and / or dark berry compote.  It’s plain, not a stunner – but simple is sometimes good…

250g softened butter

250g sugar (I used unbleached cane sugar)

4 large eggs

140g polenta

200g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

Grated zest and juice of 2 large oranges.  Grate gently or the zest will be bitter.  Save 100ml juice for syrup.

Orange Syrup – 100ml orange juice and 100g sugar.

Line a round 23cm cake tin with baking paper.  I used a smaller tin with only 2/3 of the mixture and it was perfect, so adjust carefully to suit your needs.

Heat oven to 160 / 140 / gas 3.

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Gradually add eggs, beating well.  Feel the burn in those arms!

Reserve 100ml juice for syrup in a small saucepan.  Add the rest, with zest and dry ingredients to the creamed butter & sugar, sifting in flour and polenta.

Gently plop into the tin and smooth the top.  Bake in the oven for around 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre.

Make the syrup by gently dissolving sugar in remaining orange juice over a low heat, stirring occasionally.  Once dissolved, bring to the boil then simmer for 5 minutes to reduce & thicken slightly.

Slowly pour the syrup over the cake, allowing it to seep in.  I did this before taking the cake out of the baking paper, to stop the syrup from running off.

Allow to cool on a wire rack.  Enjoy – some people won’t like the texture of the polenta, but I think it’s quite sophisticated… I’m going to try this again in late summer, with lavender flowers in the syrup to give it a more floral aroma.

Recipe from the fab BBC good food website.  What’s your favourite recipe website?

Kitchen cupboard - a bit more sorted, but will never be 'tidy'!

So for the moment, my kitchen cupboard is sorted, but it’ll never be ‘tidy‘!

Oh Crumbs – That’s Amazing!

P1000110Yesterday was another wet – no, torrentially rainy, cold spring day.  What is going on with the weather – we have guests from Germany who say that the spring we should be enjoying is equally illusive there, and I was speaking from a lady from Italy who said the same – cold and damp.  Grr.

We had run out of biscuits and I really didn’t want to go out to get more.  There was some fresh bread left from breakfast, so I had a look on line for inspiration, and found a solution to the problem of the empty biscuit box and the left over bread… Breadcrumb Cookies!

This recipe is on a site which I really enjoy – ‘Thrifty Fun’ – thought I would share it because it is so amazing – as many of their ideas are.

Follow the link for Thrifty Fun –      http://www.thriftyfun.com/tf64866920.tip.html

I wouldn’t say that they are the best cookies ever, but they are good, and definitely worth making – if only just to use up those scraps of bread that look lonely, and to entertain and amaze yourself on a wet day!

Start the day with Zest – Lime marmelade muffins.

Last year it was all about Cupcakes…

This year, it’s Muffins.

P1000145They’re so very very easy – they could almost be called a convenience food.  But a fun one – and one that you can be sure only contains good things.     And they’re a great subject for experimentation – you can make an unlimited range of flavours quick and easily – and because they’re batter based, there’s no need to soften butter, or for creaming, or any special skills.

Give them a go – you wouldn’t believe the transformation from lumpy, unattractive batter that goes into the oven to the domed little beauties that come out – magic!

Here’s a recipe to give you a tangy lift in the morning – best eaten  still warm from the oven… yum!

Makes 12 muffins.

Preheat oven to 400F, 200C, Gas 6.

1/4 cup butter, melted

2/3 cup marmalade (I use lime marmalade for an extra zing)

2 cups self raising flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs – lightly beaten

3/4 cup milk

2 tsp lemon or lime zest, and 2 tp orange zest

1.  Line your muffin tin with 12 muffin cases.

2.  Heat butter and 1/3 cup marmalade gently to melt together.  Stir and cool.

3.  In a large bowl, sift self raising flour and baking powder.

4.  Make a well in the centre of the flour.

5.  In a small bowl or jug, combine eggs, milk, zest/s and butter marmalade mixture.

6.  Add liquid to the flour in one go and stir a little – it should stay lumpy – if you over mix it, the muffins will have hard tops.

6.  Fill cases 2/3 full with batter.  Bake until golden brown – around 15 – 20 minutes.

7.  The muffins are ready when a skewer or thin knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.

8.  While they are cooking, make the glaze for the muffins – gently heat 1/3 cup marmalade.

9.  Brush glaze over the hot muffins and serve warm, or transfer to a wire rack to cool.

What are your favourite muffins – do you make them yourself, or where do you buy them from?

Thrifty Bakes… two very different but equally comforting Bread Puddings.

P1000104We used to save up all the crusts and ends of loaves to take to the park at the weekend and feed to the ducks.  A fond memory, but it doesn’t happen any more – mainly because of the rat problem which has meant that park keepers leave notices requesting that visitors don’t feed bread to the ducks.  The fact that the girls are now well into their teens / twenties probably has something to with it as well!


So now one of our top ways to use those leftover bread / bun leftovers is for bread pudding.

Here are two very different sorts of ‘bread pudding’…

Bread & Butter Pudding

A traditional desert – layers of bread with butter and jam set in a vanilla custard.

A fun way to use up those last bits of jam in the pots – or ring the changes with marmalade instead.

Holly loves it cold for breakfast too, with lots of dried fruit suspended in the rich custard.

This is based on Delia Smith’s recipe – vary it by adding more mild / less cream if you’d like a lighter custard – or a few drops of vanilla essence into the custard (or almond essence, especially if you’re using apricot jam).  Make it in a well buttered rectangular / oval lesagne type dish approx 18 x 23cm (7 x 9″).  I always try to remember to get the butter out of the fridge the day before so it’s good and soft for spreading.   Serves 4 – 6.

8 slices of bread from a small loaf – or equivalent.  (Cut off crusts if they’re too crusty – make into breadcrumbs instead & mix with grated cheese and herbs to use as an alternative topping for fish pie or macaroni cheese.)

10 g (1/2 oz) whole candied lemon or orange peel, finely chopped – omit if you don’t like it.

50g (2oz) currants / sultanas / raisins

275ml (10 floz) Whole milk (use reduced fat for a lighter custard)

60 ml (21.4fl oz) double cream

50 g (2oz) golden caster sugar (or any caster sugar!)

grated zest of 1/2 lemon – don’t grate down to the white pith as this is really bitter

3 large eggs

Whole nutmeg / vanilla / almond essence.

Soft butter for greasing the dish and buttering the bread

Jam for spreading onto the bread (or marmelade for a sharper flavour)

Preheat oven t gas 4, 350F, 180C.

Spread butter and jam over the bread slices, right to the edges.

Cut bread slices into quarters and arrange one slightly overlapping layer over the base of the dish.  Sprinkle over candied peel and dried fruit.  Cover with another layer of bread and dried fruit.

Mix eggs in a big, wide jug or bowl.  Whisk in cream, sugar, milk and flavourings.  Pour over the bread & grate some fresh nutmeg over the top.

Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for 30 – 40 minutes.

Remove and leave for 5 minutes before serving with thick cream.

– Try using different sorts of bread, jams, dried fruits…

– Try substituting one egg for 2 extra yolks  or some of the milk for more cream to make it richer.  This is real comfort food – make it simple and it’s easily digested too, so good if you’re feeling a little fragile.


Bread Pudding is quite different – mosit, heavy, spicy  and with a decidedly winter feel.

A traditional way to use up leftover stale bread (as opposed to fresh leftover bread, which is better for the recipe above), which is broken into pieces then soaked in milk to soften it.  Brandy, sherry or similar can be used to re-hydrate currants, sultanas and other dried fruit – and it’s good served with a brandy cream for tea, or cut into small pieces for a spicy treat to waken the taste buds & provide some hearty comfort food at breakfast.  This recipe is again based on Delia Smith’s.  Try with different combinations of dried fruit, glace cherries…

Serves around 6.  Use a baking tin similar to a deep flapjack tin 15.5cm x 20cm x 4.5cm deep. (6 1/4″ x 8″ x 1 3/4″).  Line the tin with parchment paper, or butter it well.

225 g (8 oz)  Stale brown or white bread, crusts removed.  You can also use stale buns, hot cross buns, or similar.

2 teaspoons ground mixed spice.

Whole Nutmeg

110g (4 oz) Sultanas

25g (1 oz) currants

25g (1oz) raisins

50g (2oz) candied peel, chopped

3 Tbs brandy or sherry or orange juice

275ml (10 floz) milk

50g (2 oz) butter, melted – plus extra for greasing

75g (30z) soft dark brown sugar

1 large egg, beaten

grated zest of 1/2 orange

grated zest of 1 lemon

1Tbs demerara sugar

Place dried fruit and candied peel into a bowl with the brandy.  Leave to marinade.

Break bread 1 cm pieces and place in a separate, large bowl.  Pour the milk over, stir and leave to absorb for about half an hour by which time the bread should be well soaked.

Preheat the oven to gas 4, 350F, 180C.  Make sure there is a shelf in the centre.  Line tin.

Beat eggs with a fork.  Mix in melted butter, sugar, mixed spice and add to marinated fruits.  Add oragne and lemon zest.  Add soaked bread and mix gently all together.

Spread into the baking dish.  Sprinkle with demerara sugar and freshly grate some nutmeg over the top – not too much!

Bake on the centre shelf of the over for around 1 1/4 hours.  If serving as a desert, eat hot with brandy cream (whisk some brandy and sugar into double cream until thick and gloopy).

History of bread puddings – our ancestors throughout the ages have been inventive in an effort not to waste food.  There is evidence that the Romans made a type of bread pudding with milk, fat and sugar – although they didn’t use eggs to make a custard, so it would have been denser than the recipe above.  Ancient Egyptians reportedly made Om Ali, an Egyptian version, from bread, milk / cream and raisins.

These days, regional varieties are still made all over the world – Shahi Tukra is an Indian dish made from bread, ghee, sugar, saffron, rosewater and almonds.  I’d love to hear of other variations still being used today –

Apple Cake Experimentation – 3 recipes that came out as winners.

We’ve been experimentating with different apple cake styles and recipes over the winter.

It’s been interesting, made the house smell wonderful and provided us with a great excuse to have the oven on, which has helped the log burner heat up the kitchen – win, win, win!

Here are the recipes for three of our favourites – all very different.

Recipe 1 – 

Chunky Apple & Plum Loaf Cake.           

ImageThis is a great way to use up not only older apples, but also the last bit of jam in the jar (or have a clear out, and finish those last smidgens from lots of pots!)

We made it in a loaf tin… just for a change, but you could use a regular round tin if you prefer – use a 1Kg / 2Lb loaf tin or a 20 cm round tin lined with baking paper.

This recipe is adapted from one found in BBC Good Food Magazine.

We used Plum jam, so ours was an apple and plum cake, but consult with your almost empty jam jars then decide what you’re going to make –

250g / 9oz Self Raising Flour

175g / 6oz butter (I always use butter rather than spread in cakes & pastry as I think it tastes better)

175g / 6 oz Muscovado Sugar (or demerara, or white if you don’t have Muscovado)

1/2 tsp Cinnamon

3 Small Eating Apples – Peeled & cut into medium sized chunks

2 Large Eggs, Beaten

1 tsp Baking Powder

Jam & 2 x Rounded Tbs Demerara Sugar for top

1.   Preheat oven to 170c or Gas 4.  Line loaf or cake tin with baking paper.

2.   Rub the flour, butter and muscovado sugar together to make fine breadcrumbs.  Reserve 5 Tbs of this mixture and mix it with cinnamon and demerara sugar for topping.  Set this reserved mixture aside.

3.   Mix apple chunks and eggs.

4.   Stir baking powder into rubbed in mixture, then quickly and lightly stir in the egg mixture – don’t over mix.

5.   Spoon into the tin – if you have enough jam, you can dollop some jam in as you spoon cake mixture in.

6.   Dollop rest of jam on the top – we made a little rut along the middle of our loaf cake, and put jam along the middle – good idea to keep it away from the sides of the tin as you don’t want the jam to burn

7.   Spoon reserved crumble / sugar over the top, avoiding jam.

8.   Bake in your preheated oven for 1 hour and 10 or 20 minutes – test with a skewer & it’s cooked when skewer comes out clean.  Cover with foil after about 50 minutes.

9.   Once cooked, leave in tin for around 30 minutes then cool on a wire rack (or eat hot!)

Recipe 2 – Apple Cake with Syrup.

ImageThis is a very different cake, made with semolina – higher in protein than flour.  This cake has no added fat and the main sweetener is the maple syrup.  There are different grades of ‘maple syrup’ sold, and as always you get what you pay for – genuine maple syrup has a low GI in contrast to cheaper varieties, which often contain a low element of maple syrup (therefore less taste) and often have a much higher GI.  This is great with greek yougort or vanilla ice cream.

The recipe here was adapted from http://www.weighitup.com.au

Line a 20 – 22 cm cake tin, or make in a flapjack type tin – 32 x 22 cm, lined.

Heat oven to 180c or gas 4.

4 eggs
½ cup  sugar
250g semolina
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup water
½ cup quick oats
800g stewed Apples
½ cup flaked almonds – optional

1 cup water
¼ cup  sugar
¾ cup  Maple Syrup

1.   Mix eggs and sugar with a whisk until light, creamy and thick.

2.   Add some of the semolina, then some of the water and vanilla.  Add the rest of the semolina, baking powder, water, vanilla and oats. Mix well.

3.   Mix in apples.

4.   Spread into tin. Sprinkle with almonds if using them.

5.   Bake for 20 – 25 minutes if using a flapjack style tin, or longer if using a cake tin – it is ready when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

6.   Allow the cake to cool.  Heat the syrup for a little while in a small saucepan – don’t let it burn, but do let it thicken a little.  Then pour it over the cake – slowly so it soaks in.

Recipe 3 – Apple, Sunflower seed and Honey Cake.

ImageSunflower seeds are great little packets of goodness – they contain lots of vitamin E, which has been said to help to reduce cholsterol.  They also contain a lot of magnesium, which is needed for strong healthy bones and also for regulating the flow of calcium to the blood vessels and muscles.  They also contain  selenium, which has been found in some studies to inhibit cancer cells… and the Vitamin E that they contain is claimed to help prevent UV damage to the skin by the sun.

We made this in a ring tin – one with a hole in the centre.  We greased it well first, and it turned out wonderfully.

Preheat oven to 170c or Gas 5.

1 cup sunflower seeds.

1/4 cup Honey (heat your measuring cup first by pouring boiling water into it, and this will help honey to run out more cleanly)

1 cup sunflower oil

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

2 cups plain flour mixed with 1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt and 1 tsp ground cinnamon or nutmeg and 1 tsp vanilla extract

3 cups peeled, chopped apple – chop quite small.

Honey to pour over – use a spoon heated by pouring boiling water over it first to help.

1.   Sprinkle some of the sunflower seeds into the greased tin.

2.   Use an electric mixer to beat sugar, honey and oil.

3.   Beat in eggs, one at a time, adding a little flour with the last couple if necessary.

4.   Gently beat in rest of dry ingredients, then fold in vanilla, rest of sunflower seeds & apple.

5.  Cook for 50 – 60 minutes.   Cool in tin for about 10 minutes when taken out of oven.

6.   Turn out onto a wire rack to cool, and very carefully pour over more honey – it helps this absorb better if you heat the honey gently in a pan first.  You may want to prick the cake gently too, to help absorption.

Delicious served with vanilla ice cream, custard, creme fraiche or greek yogurt.

– Do you have any recipes that you’ve found to be family favourites?

Spring: Lemon Lavender Shortbread.

It’s early June and the Lavender in the garden is full of beautiful tender, silvery-grey new growth.

This is an unusual recipe which celebrates traditional British Summer – try this scented shortbread with tea, or as a dessert with fruit compote and rich vanilla ice cream.

If you feel that your arms need some exercise, this is a good recipe to make – it’s quite hard work beating the flour into the butter with a wooden spoon – knowing that you’ve worked for these biscuits will make them even more enjoyable (alternatively use a food processor!)

150g plain flour

100g salted butter, softened and cut into pieces

50g caster sugar

Zest of half a washed lemon

Few tender new lavender leaves, cut up quite small

Heat the oven to 180c.

Prepare a baking tin by lining it with non stick baking parchment.

Place softened butter into a bowl and gradually beat in flour and sugar, making sure that the flour doesn’t fly away in dusty drifts as you go.  Add lemon zest and lavender towards the end so they are well incorporated but not too chopped up.  (If you are in a hurry, or don’t need an arm workout, combine in a food processor).

Quickly and gently work mixture together to form a ball.

Pat and roll out lightly, on a floured surface.

Either use a round cutter or cut squares / rectangles and transfer to baking sheet.

Prick on the top with a fork if you like, to decorate.  You can also sprinkle with a little sugar.

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, or until cooked.  The shortbread should remain very pale.

Cool on the tin for a little while then transfer to a wire rack to cool properly.

Store in an airtight container.

Tip:  You can try different flavours of shortbread – vanilla, orange zest, Rosemary and walnut… be adventurous, but keep the flavours subtle.